YES Alumna Creates Hometown Book Exchange

By Emma Morgan, American Councils BiH Administrative Intern, YES Abroad Bosnia and Herzegovina ’14

After spending a year in Chaska, Minnesota as a YES student, Anela Tiro (PY 2015-16) knew how powerful it was to discover and engage with a different perspective. She wanted to bring that experience to people in her hometown of Mostar, BiH so she decided to create a public bookshelf at the American Corner in Mostar. Anela described the bookshelf as “a resource for personal and intellectual development” that she hoped would help her peers “discover new things in order to shape critical thinking and make this world a better place.”

The public bookshelf is open to everyone and operates under one simple principle: if you take a book from the bookshelf, you should also donate one in return. That way, the bookshelf is home to an ever-changing variety of literature that anyone, regardless of their background or personal finances, can access. Anela hopes that “the shelf might bring new ideas to others, and will spark a fire in someone’s deepest thoughts.”

And it appears to have done just that! Since its opening in August of 2016, the shelf has grown in popularity. American Corners staff in Mostar have remarked that most locals are surprised to find a bookshelf like this exists in their hometown. People have enthusiastically latched onto the bookshelf’s principle, with many people taking one book, but leaving 3 or 4. In fact, the bookshelf is so popular that at times it’s hard to find a place on the shelf to put the newly donated books! With this simple structure, Anela Tiro has created a whole new type of exchange in her own backyard.

Side by Side

YES Abroad Macedonia Mid-Year Orientation (January 16th and 17th, 2017 – Veles, Macedonia)

By Vesna Naumovska, YES Abroad Coordinator

It’s been 5 months that we have Jeremy, Kyra, Jaleh and Arshia in Macedonia. They were not happy at all that they are on a half way of their exchange, so instead of Mid-Year Orientation we called this Orientation “Trip to Veles”.

We organized everything for our trip on Monday, except the weather – we couldn’t control the weather and since it was snowing so much we couldn’t get on the morning train as planned so we took the later bus instead and we made it safely to Veles.

We had very successful Mid-Year Orientation in Hotel Gardenia. Reflecting on goals and expectations, setting up new goals for the next 5 months and seeing how much students have grown was very interesting and valuable for all.

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Mid-Year Orientation is so essential and students understood the value of it when they were done with all activities. We ended up the first day with relaxing activities enjoying the spa and wellness center at the hotel.

The following day the YES Abroad students met with Aleksandra Najdevska, YES Alumna from Veles. Thank you Aleksandra for spending time with us and sharing your exchange experience. It is always interesting to hear stories from YES Alumni.

My dear students, every day you experience something new. Time flies, so don’t waste time on worries and things that you cannot change or control. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Macedonia, explore and share and be the best youth Ambassadors that you can.

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Holiday Cheer At The American Corner in Banja Luka

By Lela Draganić, YES Programs Local Coordinator for Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

YES Abroad student Tana and Deputy Director of the Embassy Branch Office with kids at Thanksgiving

YES Abroad student Tana and Deputy Director of the Embassy Branch Office with kids at Thanksgiving

For three years now, the American Corner in Banja Luka has been a wonderful partner to American Councils in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They had provided us with the space to host our events, workshops and activities, and YES alumni and YES Abroad participants volunteer or come with their ideas and organize activities.

This year, we have celebrated every holiday at the Corner: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Together with U.S. Embassy Banja Luka Branch Office staff, YES Abroad student Tana Korhonen and Cole Potter came up with fun games for elementary school kids and helped read famous American children’s stories on the day. With lots of laughter and squeals, the kids got to participate in a Mummy wrapping competition (toilet paper standing in for ancient band aids),  stuck their hands into ”Mystery Boxes” and touched eyeballs (peeled grapes) and raw brains (spaghetti). While our YES Abroad students were busy chasing after the youngsters, YES alumna Jelena Pilipović spoke to the media about the YES program and the work of American Councils in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

YES alumna Jelena Pilipović, PY 15/16, giving an interview during Halloween activities

YES alumna Jelena Pilipović, PY 15/16, giving an interview during Halloween activities

For Thanksgiving, YES Abroad student Tana helped Mrs. Sutton Meagher, the Deputy Director of the U.S. Embassy Branch Office, read stories to kindergarten and elementary school students. After this ”StoryTime” activity, the kids did some crafts and played games.

YES Abroad student Tana and Mrs. Sutton Meagher reading stories during Thanksgiving celebrations

YES Abroad student Tana and Mrs. Sutton Meagher reading stories during Thanksgiving celebrations

 

Two days after Christmas, during a time slot when the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Ellie Dupler, runs her English conversation class they screened the now staple Christmas movie, ”Elf”, to a crowd of some 25 people. Since it was announced we would be creating a proper holiday atmosphere and bring some additional cheer by serving hot chocolate, tea, coffee and sweets to the audience, both kids, young adults and adults were in attendance.

Thank you to the American Corner, Fulbright English Teaching Assistants and the U.S. Embassy Branch Office staff. We are looking forward to many more activities and holidays with you!

YES Abroad student Tana hosting the Christmas movie night at the Corner

YES Abroad student Tana hosting the Christmas movie night at the Corner

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Macedonia

By Jeremy Slater, YES Abroad 2016-17, Macedonia (Skopje)

 

Wow! Time is flying by. As the remaining leaves wither and fall from the trees and the temperature continues to drop, I am reminded of my favorite season, fall. I love this season for many reasons; however, Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite part of autumn.

Thanksgiving is a special time for many American families. It is a time where nuclear and extended families rejoin, eat many flavorful dishes, and have fellowship. I was cautious to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, because being away from my family seemed like a very difficult thing to do. 2016 has been an uphill battle for my family, and celebrating a holiday where family is the center was causing me turmoil. Nonetheless, the wonderful friends I have made here helped this holiday become wonderful, extremely unique, and exciting.

My YES family, which included many entertaining alumni, all had Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday (the night before Thanksgiving). The current YES American students were organized to bring our favorite holiday dishes, and they all turned out phenomenal!

 

I was enlisted to cut the turkey. Let’s just say, I am not the head-of-the-house just yet…

I was enlisted to cut the turkey. Let’s just say, I am not the head-of-the-house just yet…

Finished product!!!

Finished product!!!

 

Also, I was invited by my American friend from church for a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. I was very happy to share Thanksgiving with my church family, and I was eager to talk to the Macedonians there about what this holiday means for our families. I am so incredibly thankful for the people who have come into my life; this year I have so much to be thankful for. While at my church’s Thanksgiving dinner, I met three Syrian refugees, who are seeking asylum in Skopje. They have journeyed here from Aleppo and it was very, very interesting talking to them about their odyssey.

Finally, as I end this blog post, I want to thank my two families, my coordinators and directors in DC, my lovely friends back in the States and abroad, for their unending display of love, support, and kindness as this year progresses. Being abroad during the holidays is never going to be easy, but being surrounded by an immensity of tenderness has made it so much easier. I am still so in awe for how incredibly blessed I am and I hope that this year continues to get even better.

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YES Alumni Interview: ”The U.S. Showed Us How To VALUE And Be PROUD OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA”

by Lela Draganić, YES Programs Local Coordinator for Bosnia and Herzegovina

YES Alumni Đorđe Šukalo , Kristina Lukajić and Jelena Pilipović featured in ''BUKA Online Magazine''

YES Alumni Đorđe Šukalo , Kristina Lukajić and Jelena Pilipović featured in ”BUKA Online Magazine”

YES alumni Jelena Pilipović, Đorđe Šukalo and Kristina Lukajić recently gave an interview and spoke about their experiences in the United States and what they learned while on program.

The three young alumni are based in the city of Banja Luka, in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and during a conversation with ”BUKA Online Magazine”, one of the most popular websites in the country, stated that BiH citizens have a lot to learn from Americans. Jelena, Kristina and Đorđe revealed how they hope their compatriots would learn how to ”be prouder and value more our own country, culture and heritage”, something they saw Americans do exceptionally well. They were also happy to see how united the civil society in the U.S. is, without any unnecessary divisions, and they would like to see Bosnia and Herzegovina follow that model.

All three alumni gave a valuable insight into what it looks like to go to an American high school, live with an American family and what everyday life looks in the United states. They had a chance to spend 10 months in the United States, on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, which is fully funded by the U.S. Department of State. To find out more about the YES program and how you can participate, go to yesprograms.org

Testing for YES will start in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October and to find out more about the testing dates, requirements and locations, find us on Facebook: YESProgramBiH or check our website for more updates.

You can read Đorđe’s, Kristina’s and Jelena’s entire interview here

City Representatives work to make a positive impact on their communities

When YES Alumni Marija Krsteva wanted to volunteer more in her community and promote the opportunities that are available through YES Abroad, she decided to become a City Representative.

City Representatives are leaders within the YES Alumni community, and they work to coordinate and promote various projects within their groups. City Representatives take initiative to help others with their volunteer projects, and they also work to plan their own volunteer projects.

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Marija Krsteva

“I wanted to challenge the kids to apply (to YES Abroad) and show them that everything is possible through my example,” she said. “I was also thrilled about working with other people, sharing ideas and learning something new.

Once she became a City Representative, Krsteva began a project she called “Seeing Beyond Blindness.” She reached out to blind members of the area where she lived and spoke with them about their needs. After determining how she could best assist them, she worked to obtain a grant through American Councils to purchase 16 white canes for blind individuals who needed them.

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Angela Gekanovik

This is just one of the projects Krsteva has worked on during her time as a City Representative, and both she and YES Alumni City Coordinator Angela Gjekanovikj agree that the position has allowed them to make meaningful connections with those around them and in turn have a positive impact on the community.

Gjekanovikj most recently led a team of YES Abroad students and YES Alumni as they prepared for seven months to compete in the Model United Nations conference. She organized workshops to improve the team members’ resolution writing and public speaking skills. The team went on to represent one of the biggest countries in the competition, Russia, and two members of her team were selected to receive the “best  delegate award.”

In addition to leading the Model United Nations team, Gjekanovikj has facilitated entrepreneurship training during her time as a City Representative. She used NESTA training and tools from a British Councils to lead interactive activities to help the nine participants in attendance develop business ideas and create plans to execute future projects. The goal of the program was to support a diverse group of individuals to start their own businesses and in turn grow business in Macedonia.

Because of the various activities she has participated in while serving as a City Representative, Gjekanovikj said her time in the position has been “interesting and rewarding.” Krsteva also said she enjoys the position because she can help those in her community.

“I can help people directly and indirectly (as a City Representative,” Krsteva said. “For example, I can encourage these kids to apply and I have helped them indirectly, but maybe if I actually teach blind kids some English, I have helped them directly. I feel like I am alive, doing something right.”

 

YES Abroad Alumni 2015-2016 return to the United States

YES Abroad Macedonia 2015-2016 students ended their 10-month stay in Macedonia this weekend and arrived in the United States on Monday, June 13. Alumni Marina Godinez, Brendan Schultz, Charlie Bordeon, and Maxwell Myers touched down on Monday and then made their way to Washington, D.C. for a debrief orientation.

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The four spent Tuesday at the Department of State and the Macedonian Embassy discussing their experiences in Macedonia and talking about everything from Macedonian geography to Macedonian food. They then presented their capstone project as a group and talked more about their time abroad.

While in the capital, they met with YES Abroad Bosnia and Herzegovina 2015-2016 alumni to share their experiences and tour the city. The group saw the White House and the Washington Monument as well as other attractions in the area.

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The alumni then went to the airport to board separate planes to fly to their hometowns and reunite with their families and friends.

 

Read about YES alumna Dea Saraqini’s “Sweetness for Charity” project

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Living in a community where women are often treated with disregard, you realize you have to do something to change that. In Kosova we lack on supporting women in different fields, but that never means that this won’t change. There is always room for change and it often starts with one person. There was this quote I read once, saying “Don’t expect to see a change, if you don’t make one”. There are organizations in my community which work for women’s rights and advocate for women in general but this is not enough. We can not only wait for different organizations to do their work, we also need to do ours. This made me think about what I want to do to change my community for the better.

As a feminist, I am moved by women’s issues and domestic violence is one of them. In Gjakova, Kosovo there is a place where women victims of domestic violence are sheltered; this place is called “The Safe House”. The place itself is run by a woman and there is a tremendous job done to keep the violence survivors and their children safe. These women stay and eat at this house but also seek for jobs, so they can get their lives back. For some of them it’s hard to get a job, or even try to start their life from zero, so they stay at the house longer. Since many women and children are inhabitants of the safe house, more money is needed to cover their needs and that is quite hard to get.

Kosova is known for not being at its best financial states, but the good thing is that this never stops people from helping the less fortunate than us. Whenever it comes to donating or helping someone poor or sick, people all stand together for that person.

This time we (YES Alumni Kosova) decided to make the process of donating more fun.  Between February 18th  and  20th we decided to hold a bake sale, in my town, Gjakova, which we called “Sweetness for Charity”. During these three days we sold many different desserts, tea and coffee. Initially the desserts were planned to be baked by the alumni,  but the event got so much attention from media that everyone who heard about it, wanted to help us by baking something. It was amazing that so many people got together to collect money for the Safe House. Women were baking, youth volunteered to help sell the sweets, TVs and Radio Stations were really interested to cover the event, the tent was donated etc. Being able to bring all these people together proved to me that unity is strength. For three days I got to witness the generosity of people in my community. There were people who stopped by to ask if we needed help, some who didn’t buy anything just donated money, some just wanted to congratulate us for our initiative. There is one particular case that I remember. One of the Alumni, Mjellma YES’13 , who was one of the key organizers of the project, was hanging out with her friends at the café when this one man recognized her from our TV appearance to promote “Sweetness for Charity”. He told her that he really liked our initiative and he wanted to donate as well. In the beginning Mjellma YES ‘13 thought that he will be coming to buy some desserts, but he said that all he wanted to do is give a symbolic amount of money, about $40. This showed us how generous someone can be for a good cause.  All of this filled me and everyone involved, with positive thoughts that our community is changing for good.

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After three days of hard work involving the whole community, we managed to collect 398, 40€ (or $ 438.22). This money was directly given to the head of the Safe House, with which we decided to put them in the bank and then the Safe House would use them for their needs from time to time. But collecting this amount of money isn’t our proudest accomplishment. What we are the proudest of is that we managed to bring awareness on women’s condition in our society and showed that when we all get together, we can do something great, but it all has to start somewhere, maybe by one person.

                                        

Dea Saraqini. YES 2014-2015, KOSOVA, hosted in Greenville, South Carolina

 

 

70 Primulas for 70 lovely ladies

By Simona Ristovska ’10, YES alumni Coordinator Macedonia

Alumni Bard Ajdini and Sanja Janevska giving out primulas

Alumni Bard Ajdini and Sanja Janevska giving out primulas

Each year on 8th of March YES alumni in Macedonia visit the “Mother Teresa” elderly home in Skopje to mark International Women’s Day. Alumni gave out 70 Primulas to the 70 ladies living in the home. The alumni also spent couple of hours with them talking and dancing the Oro.

This year, for the first time, YES abroad students living in Macedonia joined this beautiful tradition. At the end of the event the ladies showed the alumni their “Work Therapy Room,” a place where they get together and make handmade articles – mostly clothes. They showed us their collection of jewelry made by the residents of the home.

YES Alumni Read to Kids at the American Corner

By Olta Myslimi ’12, YES Alumni Coordinator for Albania

December 22nd-30th marked the dates of Kids Library Week at the American Corner in Tirana. Kids Library Week is a new activity that was launched for the first time in December 2014 as a new joint of cooperation between American Corners and the U.S. Embassy. It included several interesting and fun activities for all youngsters and book-lovers. Special guests such as National Library Director Persida Asllani, Public Affairs Officer Valerie O’Brien, and Minister of Culture Mrs. Kumbaro were invited to join the event. The American Corner spaces were filled up with cardboard cut-outs of famous cartoon characters which made the environment even more comfortable and enjoyable for the kids.

10407151_766373076731827_7695432372313068828_nOn the first day of the event, the National Library Director gave the opening remarks and was followed by the Minister of Culture and Mrs. O’Brien, who read classic stories such The Night before Christmas and Little Prince. On the following days, U.S. Embassy staff, American Corner members, and actors from National Theatre read more amazing books to the kids who ranged in age from 7-13 years old. Every book was accompanied by several pictures taken from the book and shown on the big flat TV screen that was standing in front of the kids. The pictures showed all the parts of the books and made it more interesting and understandable for the kids.

On the second day, five of our YES alumni joined the book reading series. They had a look at all the books and picked their favorite ones to read to the kids. The activity was opened by the IRC Director and American Corners Coordinator Matilda Vangjeli, who presented the schedule of the activity and what we would be doing. Afterwards, our alumni (YES ’12: Elvana Qeli, Olta Myslimi, YES ’13: Amarild Hazizaj, and YES ’14: Katerina Hatiaj, Rebeka Borizani) introduced themselves, where they lived in the U.S. and spoke briefly about YES program.

1888519_766372200065248_6909093557350066679_nThe first book The Giving Tree was read by our alumna Rebeka Borizani, who stood in front of the kids and started reading the story slowly so the kids could pick up the words in English. The story had a powerful meaning that we always should be thankful for what we have, show gratitude to those who help us and stay by our side when we most need them.

She was followed by three other alumni (Amarild Hazizaj, Elvana Qeli, Katerina Hatiaj), who also had picked great stories to tell. Our alumna Olta Myslimi assisted the storytellers by writing down the unknown words/idioms on the whiteboard and translating them into Albanian. After finishing the books, the alumni would ask one of the kids to retell the story in their own words and what was the meaning of each story.

1476332_766366843399117_8849804390540707545_nIn the end, our five alumni came in front of the group and each one of them prepared three trivia questions that were about the stories and new words written on the board. The first kid who would raise their hand and answered correctly received a book. After all the trivia questions were finished, more books were handed out to the rest of the kids who did not have the chance to answer. To sum it up, the kids and alumni took a group picture with the books in their hands.